Editor's note: Philadelphia food writers Joy Manning and Tara Mataraza Desmond drop by each week with Meat Lite, which celebrates meat in moderation. Meat Lite was inspired by the book coauthored by the two, Almost Meatless, due out in spring 2009. This is the first dispatch from Tara, so please welcome her to the Serious Eats family!
All this talk about bailouts and pork barreling stirred my appetite for "the poor man's meat," otherwise known as eggplant. The vegetable earned its nickname in fiscally conservative communities throughout the Mediterranean and the Middle East where it was, and still is, called upon for its versatility in cooking. In a happy coincidence, Jim Cramer's latest warning of "the next Great Depression" sounded simultaneous with abundant stacks of eggplant at farmers' markets around town (October rounds out the growing season in most regions).
I picked the small, slender Asian variety--which is usually more tender and less bitter than larger eggplants--to star in a hearty sandwich that's satisfying and inexpensive, even with the addition of lamb, a perfect eggplant partner for flavor, texture, and protein.
Demand for lamb pales in comparison to its red meat counterparts in these beef-smitten United States. But it's gaining notoriety as small, certified humane farms and chefs connect, popularizing its flavorful worth.
I spent $8.27 on a little more than 1 1/4 pounds of lamb shoulder chops. I seasoned 2/3 of the meat with za'atar and ground it (a benefit of grinding your own meat beyond freshness controls, is seasoning it evenly and as you like) for these Lavash Wraps. The rest (including the bones reserved from the chops I ground) went in to making a rich lamb ragu. That's two meaty meals for four people.
If there's a silver lining to the hole in the economy, maybe it's that more Americans will embrace the Almost Meatless philosophy for its economic smarts and delicious alternatives. If Ed Levine and his food-writing cronies tested and enjoyed the less-meat lifestyle at a steakhouse, of all places, maybe even the meat-lovingest of us with the biggest budgets can get wrapped up in it, too.
Tara Mataraza Desmond writes about, cooks, and eats food for a living. Her blog, Crumbs On My Keyboard, is dedicated to delicious things in Philadelphia and lots of other places.
- Yield:serves four
- 1/2 pound ground lamb
- 1 tablespoon za'atar
- 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper (5 or 6 grinds)
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup small diced white or yellow onion
- 2 small Asian eggplant (about 3/4 of a pound), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas, or 1 14.5-ounce can, drained and rinsed
- 1/2 cup water or chicken stock
- 2 cups loosely packed baby spinach (about 2 ounces), roughly chopped
- 1 medium tomato, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (or 1 cup canned diced tomatoes)
- 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sprinkle the ground lamb with the za'atar, salt and pepper and gently mix to distribute the seasonings.
Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or large saucepot over medium-high heat. Add the lamb and brown the meat, stirring occasionally, for 5-10 minutes.
Add the onions and the eggplant and continue cooking an additional 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds.
Stir in the chickpeas and the water, reduce heat to medium-low and cover the pot partially. Let the ingredients simmer for 15 minutes.
Remove the cover and add the spinach and tomatoes. Cook for an additional 5 minutes.